Emergence And Growth Of Songhai Empire



This unit will give you critical evaluation or the emergence of Songhai Empire. It will also examine her political system and outstanding leaders who led great development in the empire.

The people of Songhai original home was Dendi on the bank of River Niger. The tradition of origin of this state attributes it’s beginning to the coming together of two main groups; agriculturists and the fisher-folk the the Dendi region,in the south estern part of Songhai Empire. The presence of the fisher folk who became the most important element in this new settlement gave rise to a social system which was closely tired up with the cult of the river and the worship of river divinity. Economically, the alliance of the agriculturalists an the fish fork gave rise to the urban center of Kukia which became a trading and meeting place for them and their neighbors. By the seventh century, an organized kingdom was also developing around this town.

The influx of another group of immigrants for the north, possibly Christian Berbers from the North Africa fleeing from Muslim persecution, succeeded in imposing their sovereignty over the indigenous people and established a Za or Dynasty which incorporated into its religious system, a strong element of the riverine cult. In the ninth century, the Dia dynasty moved it’s seat from Kukia to Gao, a more prominent trading center of the Trans-Saharan trade route. By the beginning of the eleventh century the dynasty, which was now more exposed to Islamic influences, were converted to Islam.

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The trade at Gao was so important that it aroused the cupidity of the Empire of Mali and by the thirteenth century, it was under Mali’s domination. Thus, by the end of fourteenth century, Songhai had freed itself from the Mali’s domination and under the old dynasty, now renamed Sunni, began to expand its frontiers at the expense of Mali in the fifteenth century. Most of this expansion took place under Sunni Ali (1464 – 1492). In a series of campaigns, he succeeded in bringing within the Songhai Empire most of the important trading town of Sudan.

Songhai Empire was one of the highest country in the sixteenth century. The Songhai conquered many other people both north and south of the Niger; and their achievement holds a leading place in history. These achievements were to some extent due to the favorable position along the great river, which gave them good communications and chance to trade. But they were also the work of the Songhai-controlled trading cities such as Gao, Timbuktu and Jenne. To the advantages of their position the Songhai repeatedly added vigour and intelligence in political ideas and organizational methods.

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